London SinfoniettaEdit this event
Warp Records have a knack for presenting us with sounds that we’ve never heard before and their latest attempt at genre cross-pollination is this tour of the country’s concert halls, with modern classical orchestra the London Sinfonietta. The theory goes something like this – ‘If their ears prick up when they hear Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada or Squarepusher, then they shouldn’t have a problem with composers of the ilk of Steve Reich, John Cage, Edgard Varese or George Antheil. So let’s put them in the same programme.’ We should be glad they did it.
We start off easy enough, with a treated piano rendition of melodies from Aphex Twin’s 'drukqs' LP. Then the Sinfonietta take the stage, manning a variety of percussion instruments to perform Varese’s 'Ionisation'. Written in 1931, this piece is compelling. Supple layers of percussion overlap and gradually build into a firestorm of incredible sonics, which sound totally new. The piece was the 16-year-old Frank Zappa’s favourite and it seems logical that such a crazy, inspired piece would be essential ear candy for the following generation of experimental musicians.
In presenting Tom ‘Squarepusher’ Jenkinson on the same bill as the Sinfonietta, there is an obvious attempt to have him considered as a modern composer. Fair enough. His programming skills are undoubted and his musical ability ditto. However, his live set tonight leaves some questions to be answered. He ambles on, waves at the Phil and bumps out some thick drum’n’bass patterns for a while, disappearing behind a bank of keyboards and filling the hall with cavernous bass squelches and space-invading synth melodies. All to the good and the pulsating rhythms and harsh-but-fair melodics are extremely impressive. Then silence. Jenkinson straps on an electric bass and plays a few exquisite chords, before deconstructing the idea of the ‘bassline’ by playing fierce, brutal phrases at roughly 300 mph, then striking a swell pedal, causing feedback, looping it and using a keyboard to turn it into a syncopated 4/4 rhythm track.
Technically awesome, agreed, but overall, the set wasn’t wholly successful. It blooped and stuttered to an illogical end and Jenkinson left the stage having not really ever got to the point, it seems. Such is the nature of extemporisation, however and to see a live Squarepusher jam is to observe a genuine musical maverick in action. Afterwards, everybody else just seems a bit, well, backward.
Back to the classical and we’re treated to a Sinfonietta rendition of Antheil’s 'Ballet Mechanique' – a stunning piece, replete with sirens, mad, clanging bells, two pianos, gongs and, oh yes, aeroplane propellers, the orchestra displayed yet another fresh take on this whole music thing, this one dating from 1924. Backed up by recently restored movie from Man Ray, all twenties dolls, kaleidoscopic effects and pirouetting machinery, it’s an amazing audio-visual experience.
Having said that, the Man Ray movie was made to look like what it is – a charming, antiquated, curio – by the modern films by the likes of Chris Cunningham and Pleix during the interval. However, the early 20th Century music presented by the Sinfonietta sounds just as vital and novel as the contemporary Warp artists on show. The Varese piece just shaded it for me as song of the night, with its dashing rhythm and thrilling crescendo, but it was a fine selection all round and opens up lots of exciting new avenues for future collaborations. There have already been orchestral reworkings of Boards of Canada tracks, which must surely be breathtaking. Let’s see what happens next.
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